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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Tala Ashe
Tala Ashe
Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)
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It’s a mark of the success of Legends Of Tomorrow—specifically the work the show has put into crafting characters, relationships, and a very specific tone and point of view—that I leave this episode wishing we’d spent more time with Charlie and Nate, drinking beer and talking about superhero sex. That’s not to say that the actual events of the episode aren’t engaging. Zari and Constantine’s trip to a murder boarding house and Ava, Gary, and Mick’s journey to hell in search of Astra are both solid storylines; the wee bit we get about Sara and her potential new abilities is promising too. And there’s loads of good minor stuff included, from the continuing friendship of Ava and Mick to the fact that Gary gets an actual smile out of John. But really, this episode is all about setting up the last block of episodes, and while it does a very fine job of it, it doesn’t leave much room for drinking beer and shooting the shit. You know, the good stuff.

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Episodes like this one are common. You’ve got to move the pieces around the chessboard, positioning all the players for the endgame. In this case, it would seem the big to-dos are getting Astra on the ship and aligned against the Fates, firmly establishing the Zari-Constantine-Nate love triangle that’s been in the works, however faintly, since at least “Romeo V. Juliet: Dawn Of Justness,” and giving Sara a super-ailment/superpowers. So credited episode writer Jackie Canino is given the job of making sure those things happen and that they feel justified—and the Astra to-do is a particularly tough one.

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Well, mission accomplished. That love triangle exists (though really, if you include Gary, Zari 1.0, and Charlie’s big ol’ crush on Z, it’s more of a love hexagon). Astra’s on the ship, and Jes Macallan and Olivia Swann have to squeeze as much as they can out of a few brief scenes to make that development seem justified. (It works!) And despite swearing on her Assassin’s honor that she’s not unwell, Sara sees her hand and her girlfriend somehow unstuck in time, glimpsing either the future or a possible future, and then passes right the hell out, just as Constantine’s using the Legends like batteries to power his search for the ring.

Zari and John act as the A-storyline, and while they get the bulk of the episode as well as the costume changes, Encores, hell weapons, and punchlines—Zari in particular has quite a few zingers—theirs is the least compelling of the two. This is the rare occurrence in which the general Legends philosophy of why-the-fuck-not doesn’t totally serve the show. The idea here is that a bunch of Encores, released to separate times and places throughout hell, converge on one night in the House Of Mystery; they’re all searching for the ring/piece of the Loom and somehow manage to travel in time, which Ava’s Prognosticator cannot handle. (Or maybe Gideon is still crying over Ray’s departure and just isn’t at her best.) So it’s a bunch of baddies at once: Jack the Ripper, King Henry VIII, Brutus, Black Caesar, and Bonnie and Clyde all show up, each equipped with an appropriate hell weapon. But Jack shows up a little early, reveals his true colors in the world’s creepiest urgent care appointment, and it gives John the chance to assume Jack’s identity before sitting down to a late supper with some escapees from hell. (Escapees from hell love a dinner party, especially if it’s at the House Of Mystery.)

Still, things don’t really kick into high Legends gear until the influencer vs. sorcerer conflict asserts itself in the dinner party, after Zari, having fashioned herself a new ensemble, shows up in full Cleopatra drag and manipulates all the real Encores into putting down their weapons and searching for the ring together. By that point, it’s almost done, and because there are so many baddies, none of them, save Jack, Bonnie, and Clyde, get more than a line or two. As a result, none of them are particularly funny, scary, or generally compelling, though of course that’s not the point. The point is Zari and Constantine, bickering about who’s capable of what, bonding over loss, compartmentalization, and guilt, and staring at each other’s mouths the way that people do when they want to put their mouths on each other’s mouths. So maybe the 207 Encores all at once don’t really work, but the point is establishing the divergent love interests of Zaris 1.0 and 2.0, and that absolutely happened.

The primary subplot, on the other hand, is just about perfect. After Sara passes out during Constantine’s botched searching spell, Ava’s acting captain, and when all those Encores head straight for the stranded Zari and Constantine, she decides she needs to act, grabs Genghis Khan’s hell blade, taps in some muscle (Mick, not Nate) and the only apprentice sorcerer available to her, and heads to hell. She understandably assumes that Astra’s sent all those hellians after John, but after Astra stops eating bugs and attempts to prove that she did no such thing, it becomes clear that Lachesis swiped them all to further her own ends. (She also took the Constantine medallion and replaced it with a dud: “Who the hell is Vandal Savage?”)

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It’s all expertly handled, and not just in Mick and Gary’s very different reactions to hell (“I like it, there’s fire.”) This season put in quite a lot of work establishing that deep down, Astra really does want to save her mother and find a better life, and there’s no one on that ship better equipped to empathize with “I was betrayed by my mentor and a huge part of my life is a lie” than Ava. I’d be very curious to know if the Legends writers’ room sent Ava down to hell for this story specifically so that moment could happen, or if she went down because that’s how the story broke and they discovered that connection afterward. Either way, great, and it’s the key thing that makes this turn for Astra a believable one.

There’s not a moment wasted in that story, and few in the main storyline, even if it is a bit overcrowded. Still, the show has done such an excellent job in crafting these characters and their relationships that it’s hard not to wish for less time spent racing through plot and more time spent drinking beer and wearing sunglasses with Nate and Charlie, lazing away for four hours while their teammates are in hell or getting almost serial killed. The magic of Legends is that such interactions are as magical as giant Beebos or Mr. Parker’s Cul-de-Sac; the charm is that its relationships are well-defined and its memory long. (There is actually a very funny sound gag from when Nate and Amaya were dating that seems to be the incident Nate was describing, as you hear Amaya activate her totem and then hear Nate’s steel-up sound. It is a purely filthy joke, I love it very much, and I am so glad it was referenced here.) Let’s hope that now these things are established, the show will feel free to crack a cold one itself, put its feet up, and shoot the shit a bit before we get to the finale.

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Stray observations

  • “No one with an executive privacy button has good intentions.” Bless you, Legends.
  • I miss Ray and Nora.
  • So do you think this Zari/Nate/Constantine triangle was always in the works or was it just that they shot the Romeo & Juliet episode, noticed that Tala Ashe and Matt Ryan have solid onscreen chemistry, and changed things from there?
  • We were so close to one of my favorite tropes ever: “Oh no there’s only one bed.” Alas.
  • Mrs. Hughes/Enchantress in her first scene in the boarding house: “I would have found it eventually. Sometimes one just needs to stop looking.” A few lines later she shames Zari into sharing a room with Constantine, so I’m guessing she ships it.
  • Episode MVP: Tala Ashe has range, friends. Also, Jes Macallan. Funny, sharp (heh), good at swishing swords, loved the stuff with Mick.
  • Also, related: Ava’s irritation concerning Gary is very specific. She’s not like that with anyone else, even when she’s super annoyed. It is funny every single time.
  • Why the fuck not?: “ENCHANTRESS!”
  • Line-reading of the week: “Listen you dweeb, I gotta get out of here, I got a thing” or “The portal to hell is ready, captain” or pretty much any of Zari’s sick burns, particularly when she’s talking about getting “serial killed” and talking about that little “app that tells you the news.”
  • Also, she Peraltas!
  • Also, “kinda like that time we went mushroom picking?” Good week for Gary.
  • Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: Tie. “Who the hell is Vandal Savage?” and Nate’s line about warrior women.
  • Season five episode title ranking: 9. Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me 8. Meet The Legends. 7. A Head Of Her Time. 6. Zari, Not Zari 5. The Great British Fake Off. 4. Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac. 3 and 2 (tie). Slay Anything and Mortal Khanbat. 1. Romeo V. Juliet: Dawn Of Justness.
  • This week’s Legends in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song form. This one goes out to Zari 2.0 and Constantine, those crazy kids.

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves television, bourbon, and dramatically overanalyzing social interactions.

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